Robert Mueller’s latest service to America is all but complete. But the reverberations from his yet-to-be-revealed report could amount to inestimable political and constitutional consequences.
The conclusion of the special counsel’s investigation was an important landmark in itself, at a moment in America’s modern history when governing institutions are under intense strain. It demonstrated that so far at least, a credible legal examination is possible into the most explosive of charges against an unchained President, without interference and despite the bitter polarization of the times.
The question now is whether everyone accepts the result.
The nation could learn within days whether Mueller answered key inquiries: Did Trump cooperate with a hostile foreign power to win the 2016 election? Did he use that platform to seek to enrich himself with multi-billion dollar business deals in Russia? Did the President obstruct justice, including by firing FBI Director James Comey, in an effort to cover it all up? And is there any evidence to suggest why Trump often appears to be obedient to Russian President Vladimir Putin, following fears felt deep within the FBI that the US President was compromised? And can he explain the multiple suspicions contacts between Trump’s associates and Russians — both before and after the election — and the lies they all told about those relationships?
Trump’s team is already celebrating, claiming it is already clear that the President has already been vindicated since Mueller did not indict anyone for cooperating with Russian election meddling.
The lack of charges against Trump’s son, Donald Jr. and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who were involved in a 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians offering “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, especially disappointed his critics.
Their escape proved the shrewdness of Trump’s consistent messaging that the only question that mattered in an investigation that held Washington spellbound for two years was whether there was collusion.
“The fat lady has sung,” one Trump aide told CNN’s Jim Acosta.
For now, consistent with Mueller’s tightly controlled investigation, no one outside the Justice Department knows what is in the report, how long it is and how much it deals with the President’s own actions.
But its delivery sets up an even bigger test for Washington’s political institutions than those involved in getting it safely to its culmination.
So much political and emotional capital has been invested in Mueller’s probe by partisans on all sides that it’s already clear that it will not mark a moment of catharsis that will once and for all drain the bitter poison of the 2016 election.
Mueller is sure to anger millions of Americans who do not find validation for their set-in-stone political convictions in an assessment that could conceivably dictate the fate of the Trump presidency.
The choices made in the coming days and the revelations to come are likely to ensure that whatever Mueller’s report says, the question of Russia’s assault on the last presidential election will stain the next one in 20 months.
Attorney General William Barr, a pillar of the legal establishment, weeks into his second spell in the job, now assumes the crucial historic role of deciding how much of the report the White House will initially see, and the extent to which Mueller’s conclusions will be shared with Congress and the public.
Still, even if there is not legal liability for the President or his family in the Mueller report, it could still inflict significant political damage.